School Climate & Safety

School Safety Legislation: A Tally by State

By Nirvi Shah & Andrew Ujifusa — April 23, 2013 3 min read
Detective Barbara J. Mattson of the Connecticut state police shows lawmakers a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, the same model used in the Sandy Hook School shooting, in Newtown, during a legislative hearing.

After the devastating school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December, state lawmakers around the country vowed to act. The mission: Devise ways to prevent a similar tragedy.

They came up with hundreds of possible strategies.

An Education Week analysis of nearly 400 bills related to school safety filed in the days, weeks, and months after the deadliest K-12 school shooting in American history found that legislators have proposed solutions that include arming teachers, adding guards or police officers, and shoring up the security of school buildings.

One of the notable trends: a sharp departure in states’ reactions to the aftermath of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., when schools hired thousands of law-enforcement officers to patrol schools. This time around, several states are advancing legislation that would put guns in teachers’ hands.

A few states allowed school employees, including teachers, to carry weapons to school before Newtown. So far, only two more—Kansas and South Dakota—have passed laws allowing it. But at least 62 proposals have been introduced in state legislatures to create that option or to require armed staff members. There are also variations on the idea: One unsuccessful proposal in Mississippi, for example, would have let school employees carry nondeadly weapons, defined as, among others, Tasers and guns that fire rubber bullets.

Although the concept of arming teachers has received more attention than other proposals, a plurality of the bills reviewed by Education Week would encourage or require school emergency planning: more drills, more types of drills, and more detailed and dynamic plans. For example, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, signed four bills last week addressing emergency planning.

“Sometimes, it’s a more cautionary approach to really look at what schools are doing,” said Lauren Heintz, a research analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures who has tracked state school safety bills. “It’s more of an introspective response.”

As of late last week, only 12 state legislatures had ended their regular sessions, according to the NCSL, but many of the pending bills inevitably will end up going nowhere. As of press time, only 19 relevant bills had been signed into law. (A gun-control bill that was requested by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and passed by the state’s legislature has not been signed by the governor yet, but he is expected to do so.)

Education Week labeled bills dead only if that status could be confirmed. The analysis included bills that died because they help illustrate trends in legislation and provide insight into what lawmakers have been thinking.

The bills included all have a direct link to education, or to the Newtown shootings. So while bills about magazine size and assault-weapon restrictions are included, those involving background checks for gun purchases are not, unless they also contained provisions related to schools. Where the same version of a bill was introduced in both legislative chambers, only one was counted.

In the analysis, Education Week placed each bill into at least one of seven categories. Just because two bills are in one category does not mean they have the identical goal. A few proposals proved difficult to categorize, including one Missouri bill that would bar school employees from asking students about any firearms in their homes. And one Texas bill would allow districts to offer high school students elective classes on firearm safety that would teach the history and importance of the Second Amendment.

Online, the analysis includes trends in how legislatures reacted in different regions of the country, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

View the in-depth and interactive look at efforts to improve school security >>

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A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2013 edition of Education Week as School Safety Legislation: A Tally by State

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